The Vox ex Machinia Guide to Playing the Good Guy In Black & White Without Tearing Off Your Skull From the Inside

Posted by | November 25, 2007

For those who don’t know, Black & White is a god game dumped into the market by Lionhead Studios in 2001, roughly six years before it was actually ready for publication. I recently picked it up at the local used vendor for the respectable price of them paying me to take it out of their store. As this might imply, the game did not deliver on the majority of its promises, and was ejected from the gaming community as a whole with a speed not unlike the meteorite which wiped out the dinosaurs.

This judgment was, in fact, entirely fair because while Black & White promised an experience between raising your own baby Godzilla and bombarding your foes with holy wrath from space, what you actually got was an exercise in tedium broken only by your divine cow pooping on the temple to your magnificence. Again.

None the less, there is an actual game here if one is willing to look closer, or at least a good excuse to pretend there’s a game here. What I’m talking about is that temple to your magnificence, which changes and alters itself to match what sort of god you really are as determined by your actions. Not that many gamers noticed, though, since once their temple turned solid black, acquired a fine collection of blood-drinking bats, and put on enough spikes to send a biker gang into envy, there really wasn’t any further changes it could make. That would be the evil temple, by the way, and you got it by doing anything fun.

Okay, that’s not entirely true. Well enough that burning your enemies with fire and hurling them off the edge of world might be considered a little on the aggressive side of things, but it’s still perfectly possible to crush and conquer while keeping up what the game itself calls a 1.0 alignment. Or, in a game where the designers paid a little more attention to the fact someone other than they might play it eventually, “Good.”

The biggest problem with staying good in this game is that your fate is tied to the sort of brainless mouthbreather who would pledge his eternal and undying loyalty to a disembodied, floating hand the size of a small pony. Fortunately for you, you get a whole village full of these inbred cretins so you’re not directly out of a job when one chokes on his own armpit. Fine, but what does that have to do with me, you ask? They all want something, and being morons are mostly incapable of doing it themselves. They look up into the sky and see not your divine radiance sheltering them with wisdom and love, but a sort of five-fingered pickup truck that has nothing better to do than help them move house.

This behaviour leads toward what we call micro-management and it the first thing you must learn to avoid if you want to play the game without losing body parts to bouts of frustrated rage.

Before we go any further on the subject I would like to mention a few things. The first is that you should patch up the game to version 1.1 from as quickly as possible. This patch kills most of the major show stopping bugs that caused gamers to chew their CDs in half. Note the word “most” in the preceding sentence, as Lionhead still left in a small and precious selection of show stopping bugs to delight and amuse.

Also, I have no intention of covering the story campaign in this guide. Partly, because the techniques learned here can be applied readily enough in story mode, but mostly because the campaign can be best described as being punched in the face repeatedly by a cutscene and then, while you’re still fishing around through the blood on the floor for missing teeth, the next cutscene in line slips on the brass knuckles and steps up for a fresh go. So we won’t be doing that. This is a guide for skirmish mode alone.

Now then, back to the micro-management. More than any other factor in the game, this is your enemy. Left to their own devices, your people will do little more than lie stupidly in the grain fields and shovel the occasional handful of half-ripe seed into their drooling maws. Illness, starvation, and rampaging giant monsters will phase them not in the least, nor stir them from the furrows their unmoving bodies are slowly wearing in the earth itself. Why should they bother, after all, when they have you to do it all for them?

Don’t let that happen. You’re a god, not a valet, and your job is to protect and expand your realm. You were not hired to wipe the ass of some British immigrant to Generic Fantasy Land, so put a stop to that foolishness with the swift boot of discipline. Or, to be more accurate, the heavy chains worn by Disciples.

Disciples are those lucky, lucky individuals to whom you have assigned a task for them to perform for the rest of their natural lives. Pick up a villager, move him near the area in which the task is performed, and then look for a little symbol to appear next to his struggling carcass. Set him down, and he will gain the healthy glow of an employed Disciple. From then on, the villager will do that task, whatever it might be, until he no longer can. You will need to set new Disciples from time to time, as age, lightning bolts, and the occasional predations of a gargantuan cow thin their ranks.

Setting Disciples should become your hobby, the sort of thing a god does to relax after a hard day of hurling flaming boulders across an enemy village. The vast majority of your population should be employed in this manner or else they could go soft, and a soft villager doesn’t cause quite as much damage when flung.

In general, what you’ll want to set up is a small number of Disciple builders, maybe two Disciple craftsmen per town, perhaps a forester to help build up the ol’ lumber mill, and two female breeders because nothing says Just and Wise Rulership like temple whores. Once these bases are covered, every other living thing in your village should be assigned to the fields and sent to farm until their backs break. This is vital because without a constant supply of grain your villagers will spend their time bitching at you about food, and not humping like bunnies as they should to expand your power.

Okay, so now everyone in the village has their own little aura of slavery to your divine will, it’s time to take he next step on the path to destroying the scourge of micromanagement and bring in your creature. Yes, that monolithic farm animal who sold you on this game in the first place. Amazingly, he is good for something and that something is casting Miracles so you don’t have to.

Your village will always and forever be in desperate need of healing, rain for the fields, even more food, and crucially, wood. Wood is the go-to resource for pretty much everything you might want to do, and you’ll need an awful lot of it. While in fact, wood does grow on trees, the trees themselves won’t last long under the assault of a village determined to expand. That’s where your creature comes in.

At the start of a skirmish game, you will only know a few spells, er, Miracles, as provided by your pathetic villagers. None of those are going to be Miracle Wood, which is a damn shame because it’s the most useful Miracle in the game. However, if your creature knows the Miracle, he’ll cheerfully cast it even when you can’t. That means more wood, more wood means more better, more better means the other god gets a boot up his ass more sooner. The best way to make this happen is to teach your creature the Miracle Wood spell with a quickness, then take him into a new game and start over from there. Slap him up with the Fluffy Pink Leash of Compassion and chain the bastard down to the village store. Give him just enough leash to walk around the village so he can reach the fields and whatever forestry lives inside the village walls.

Now, if all goes according to plan, your creature will amuse himself by being compassionate, which means casting his Miracles on the villagers and their surroundings. He’ll water the fields, he’ll rain on the trees to make them grow, he’ll heal the sick and wounded. Most important, and you’ll want to watch him like a hawk to reward him for it, your creature will Miracle up fresh wood for the village store. Spend time on this, and soon enough your holy colossus will be transformed into a miraculous vending machine that frees you from the drudgery of paying attention to the needs of the people who give you power and life.

Once your villagers are no longer attached to your celestial power like leeches at a blood bank, you’ll be free to go about the business of being a god instead of some kind of ethereal quartermaster on a ship of fools. Being a god is all about power, and you’ll soon want to expand yours. The best way to do that is through lots of lots of villagers offering up prayer power and expanding your control radius.

The obvious solution is to make lots of breeder Disciples, but that’s entirely wrong. Let your villagers breed out of control and you’ll end up scraping through dumpsters for half-spent prayer power, desperately pulling together enough mojo to cast Miracle Food for the twenty-seventh time in a row while dirty little children pull on your non-existent ears. Don’t be that god. Instead, force your people to expand at a regulated pace by providing housing.

Housing is a great thing because your population will expand to fill it, but they’ll also slow down their sinful rutting as space becomes more scarce. Once your Disciples are set, get to work building a bunch of homes, spicing things up a bit with the occasional civic building. The best place for these new houses is right on the edge of your village’s control radius, heading toward some juicy target like another village or a strong forest that you might want to reach over and grab. This will expand your control radius, giving you a better shot at laying your radiant claw over whatever resources are to be had in that direction. In fact, build homes like a Californian condo developer on a phenomenal meth binge, just surround your town with deserted suburban real estate. I’ll get to why in a bit.

In Black & White, the goal of the game is to take over the other god’s villages and then lay waste to his temple once his worshipers have abandoned him. An evil god does this by killing anyone who doesn’t have the Mark upon his hand or forehead, but you’re not that sort of god. As a good god, you must fight this battle as a war of ideas and loyalty, bringing your gospel to the blighted and deprived followers of that bastard heathen up in the sky over above the other temple. In practice, this means subversion and kidnapping.

Just like any other disposable resource, you can reach out and pick up enemy villagers if they wander too near your control radius. Do so whenever possible, and pick off those oblivious schmucks with all the hesitation of a starving hawk that just spotted a field mouse wrapped in bacon. Once you’ve got him, it might be tempting to fling the enemy villager off into the vast deep, but you wouldn’t want to do that because it’s an evil act. Also, there’s nothing in it for you beyond a mild sense of satisfaction. Instead, wing the surprised little heretic off to your own village and hover him near an empty house. You’ll get a symbol, just like Disciples do. Place him down, and a random female voice from nowhere will burst out something like, “Live here in peace” which is exactly what I’d do after being stolen away from home and family by a grasping, heavenly fist. Spend a moment to turn the new meat into a Disciple, then watch him slouch merrily off into the fields with the other slaves. Congratulations! You have just increased your own power at the expense of your enemy, and best of all, kidnapping counts as a good act! Presumably, when the enemy god isn’t eating babies with a side of broiled puppy, he’s off playing the bad touch game with his villagers behind the woodshed. Really, a sudden and violent relocation is to the best for all involved.

However, this only works if you have a free corner in one of your houses to stuff the fresh meat puppet into when you’re done with him for the day, and that’s why building homes is so important. A good-aligned god not only has to find a bed for his own followers, but those unexpectedly late of any other gods, as well. This works too on neutral villages, which can be nice, since you can depopulate the place rather quickly and then send a single minion out to claim the deserted town for your own. Shuffle the stolen population back to their homeland, and you’ll have a spanking-new village to call your own while the other god is still trying to impress the neighbors by puking birds out his ass.

If you’re the tricky sort who likes to abuse the incredible idiocy of game AI, and I’m betting you are, it’s possible to simplify the whole process by placing a lure of some sort just beyond your luminescent border of Mine Now! and then waiting for the computer’s villagers to come poke their heads out in an attempt to claim the bait. A pile of wood works nicely, as does a couple trees if any happen to still exist by then. Drop them down, then crouch behind a mountain or something like a fourth grader waiting to jump out and scare his sister. If all goes well, a steady, ant-like stream will flow from the nearest village, and you can commence with El Swipe-o Grande at will until either your keyboard breaks or every nook and cranny is filled with enough stunned converts to make a Cuban refugee raft seem roomy and comfortable.

But I also mentioned the gentle art of subversion, that is, converting people by going out to their towns and showing off your holy spiffiness, rather than simply plucking random waifs from their lives for a quick trip through the mind-control booths hidden inside those log cabins of yours.

There are two main ways to do this, you can drop off holy artifacts for the heathens to worship, or you can send over folks to spread the good news of your mercy and love by punching people directly in the theology and wallets. Neither of these methods are exclusive of the other, and they both work just fine while you’re off kidnapping anything on two legs that you can flush out.

Artifacts are perhaps the most potent weapons in your holy arsenal, but they take a while to get rolling and the game isn’t really very helpful in teaching you how to use these tactical theological nukes. Fortunately, I’m a little more forgiving of those who lack the sort of cybernetic telepathy Lionhead expected their players to possess.

To make an artifact, hunt down a portable rock and haul it back to a village center. Larger rocks produce more potent effects, but take longer to transform into a proper billboard for your divine protection racket. Because of this, smaller stones are more useful in the early game when you need some philosophical firepower right here and right now.

Once you’ve planted the stone near the village center, it should only be a matter of time before your people notice the sudden appearance of a boulder in their lives. When they do, the more energetic amongst them will begin to dance around it, singing praises and chants to the most benevolent spirits that blessed them with so much wonderful pumice. After a bit of this, the rock will gain a slight divine glow as your symbol hovers over it like the transparent ghost of a playful puppy. Once you see the symbol, the rock is done cooking, and now it’s completely the same in all ways except anyone who comes across the stone will be compelled to dance and sing and otherwise go through the motions of joining your service.

A couple artifacts strewn around the home and hearth do very well in keeping the populace happy and ready to offer up that wonderful prayer power, but the things have other uses as well. You can use artifacts as a sort of Miracle-Gro for Wonders by building the Wonder over a handy glowing rock, which can lead to truly game-breaking levels of spell, er, Miracle-casting powers as the roid-raging SuperHellMondoWonder that results is less of a handy bonus and more like a slot machine that buries you in inexhaustible riches just for pulling the handle.

However, if you don’t feel like strip-mining the world to build that Wonder, you can also toss artifacts into enemy villages. Mysterious rocks always being a cause for celebration, the heathens will flood away from their homes and loved ones to admire the geology you just plunked down in front of them. This gives you belief in a big chunk right away, plus a good whack more belief every now and then forever more. Any other artifacts you might roll in do the same thing, and it all adds up amazingly fast. Of course, trying this against a human player will see the artifacts returned rather quickly, at a hefty velocity, through your temple. They will also be on fire. So don’t do that.

While artifacts have limited use against a player, the computer has a deadly fear of god-cooties and won’t touch the things to save its life. You could quite literally wall up villages with artifacts, surrounding whole populations with an inescapable barrier of proselytizing masonry. Since artifacts don’t disappear or run out of gas, you can re-use them by simply swiping the holy boulders from conquered villages and sneaking them into the next filthy enclave of sinners and heretics.

Villagers also have the rather helpful habit of gathering around artifacts to do their worship thing, which means a good dozen or so of the hapless meatbags will always be right there, out in the open, just itching to be caught in the blast range of anything you might call down from the heavens upon them. Sure, you’re playing the sort of god who fills the world with love and kittens and shiny happiness for all creatures, but you know. Lightning happens. Just sayin’.

Anyhow, so if artifacts won’t work against another player, what’s left besides trudging over to piss doves at unfriendly villages? Why, rabble-rousing, of course! You have two flavours of destructive influence to inflict upon an enemy village; Missionaries and Traders. Missionaries drop by to spread the word about your good deeds and that kitten business, while Traders do mostly the same thing with fewer kittens and more bribery.

You can make either by snagging someone from your vast domain and carting them out to enemy territory. Hover your covert agent near a building, and you’ll see a little yin-yang symbol. That creates a Missionary, who gives you belief in chunks over time. Park the fellow near the village store, and he’ll sport a symbol that doesn’t really look like a pregnant cripple in any way, meaning he’ll become a Trader. A Trader offers up resources like wood and food, cashing in over time on the belief that sort of thing generates.

A single agitator won’t summon up the kind of belief that an artifact produces, but they don’t stand out either, which makes it rather tricky for the other guy to hunt them down and mail their pieces back to you in tiny baggies. They also work well together with artifacts to create a poison dagger of dogma, seeping your religious venom into the other god’s heart. Just like artifacts, your guerilla subversion squads work best in great scheming hordes. Feel free to send them over in swarms while your opponent isn’t looking, maybe yank your creature over to get his attention while you smuggle in whatever you can before the screaming and the lightning stops.

So then, those are the basics. To sum up, kill the micro-management aspects by bending everyone you can reach into Disciple slavery, train your creature to cough up resources with the reflexive instinct the rest of us use to breathe, and build enough homes to see your village right into the centerfold spread of Tract Housing Monthly.

Once that’s done, take over villages by kidnapping the people, tempting anyone who’s left to kick their old, unfashionable religion in favour of your idols and artifacts, then seal the deal by sending over Missionaries and Traders to steal the town outright. Congratulations! You are now a total vicious bastard of a god with a shiny white temple of purity and love for all things that are, or soon will be, yours. Enjoy.

Oh! One last thing, you might find it useful to know. Your creature’s actions do not reflect on you. I’ll say that one more time to hammer it in. Your creature’s actions do not reflect on you. So if kung-fu fights between barnyard titans appeal to you, and it should, don’t worry about the bodies being laid at your own door. So long as you’re willing to handle the Miracles back home, feel free to name your cow Blood-Eater and send him off to devour the nations of man and stain his hooves with the viscera of the unbeliever. So long as the flames and terror don’t emerge from your own hand, why, you’re still everyone’s bestest buddy and the shiniest, most wonderfulest god on the block. I guess so long as the gore and giblets are washed off before anyone back home sees your creature, they think the scars and darkness and flaming pitch bleeding from his eyes are just some kind of skin condition, poor thing. They probably even send him Get Well cards with little jokes in them he can laugh at while pooping on the glowing white 1.0 temple to your magnificence. Again.

1 Comment so far
  1. Sacha Ouellet
    May 2, 2013 4:59 pm

    To Whomever,

    This article is very well written, and provides insight into this game. Did Lionhead ever release an actual guide to this PC game? I wish I could see extended videos of an expert playing this game. Some people are visual learners. This game is so complex that I fell somebody should release training videos of some sort. Lionhead did not provide their customers with a proper tutorial for this game. Regardless it is an amazing game. Did they design it that way to really make people think hard?

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